At the Coronation of Bryce and Rhiannon, I had one of the highest honors betowed upon me. Queen Rhiannon and Mistress Gwynhwyvaer approached me and asked to comision a box for Master Johannes’ venerable coronet. Master Johannes passed before I joined the SCA, but I have always admired his legacy and his contributions to the SCA and the Kingdom.
Master Johannes the Black of the Athanor is a legend in the Kingdom of Meridies. He was a member of both the Order of Laurel and the Order of the Pelican. He was an avid herald and created meticulous records during his time as the Pennon Herald of Meridies. I am mostly familiar with his efforts on behalf of the Equestrian community. He was one of the early drivers of equestrian in the SCA and authored the Meridian Book of the Horse.
He was a unique individual, so I wanted to do something special and just a standard square box. My original plan had been to do an oval, but two things stopped me. First, an oval is much harder than round. Secondly, the wreath is actually pretty close to a circle. So circle it was.
WARNING! – Math ahead
I started by figuring out the geometry of the piece. I had 5/4 walnut that I intended to use. When creating a segmented piece, the more pieces you have, the less waste you have. I needed about 10″ in diameter in the inside. I needed to increase that diameter to include the thickness of the walls and the padding/lining. I was aiming for about a 13″ outside diameter.
To minimize waste, I wanted to use a large number of segments. I picked 24, and I honestly can’t remember why. I played in sketchup for a while to try to get the layout right, and that’s the number I ended up settling on. With 24 pieces, each segment has to traverse 15 degrees (360/24=15). This means each piece needs a 7.5 degree angle on each side.
To get a 13 inch diameter, I need 40.8 inches of circumference. 40.8 divided by my 24 sections gives me 1.7″ per section. 1 7/8″ is 1.875″, so each section will have a length of 1 7/8″ on the long/outer side, for a total circumference of 45″. This means the inside, or short side, will be 1 9/16″. 1 9/16″ gives me a circumference of 37.5 and an 11.94″ diameter on the inside. My desired 13″ diameter lies in the middle of that range.
I rough planed and jointed the lumber. While this project was destined for the lathe, I had to ensure the pieces were uniform and ready for glue up. Any small deviation is magnified 24 times by the time you are done. Then I went to set my miter saw to 7.5 degrees. It turns out there is no stop or mark for 7.5 degrees on my saw.
It turns out I have a digital gauge I can put on my table saw to tilt the blade to a fairly precise degree. I tilted the blade to 7.5 degrees, then cut a scrap piece. I used that scrap to set my miter saw bevel. (My miter saw is more trustworthy and stable then my table saw. 48 slices later I had 24 identical trapezoidal pieces of walnut.
I learned a trick from Frank Howarth on YouTube. When you are gluing up a circle out of segments, don’t do it all at once. Remember earlier when I said you can multiply mistakes by 24 times? Instead, glue up two halves of the circle. Then you can use sandpaper to flatten the mating surface of the two halves. Even though you loose a minute amount of perfect roundness, you will get that back in the turning. I used a woven strap to clamp the round shape like a tourniquet.
Once the circle was formed, I glued it to a sacrificial plywood backer. Once dry the backer was attached to a lathe face plate for turning. Using wood glue like this may seem like overkill, but I knew there would be a lot of torque during the turning and I did not want this thing coming off.
On the lathe I turned the form to round inside and out. I then parted the form off the sacrificial backer.
After that I used hot glue to attach what would be the bottom to the same sacrificial backer. I then cut a rebate in the bottom to fit the internal diameter of the main body. Then I repeated the same with the top to be. I glued the bottom in to place. Once dry I used my router and flush trim bit to “cut” the top and bottom to the exact size and shape of the body.
Now to the carving.
The request was to not have his arms, which were willed to Sir Lugh, on the box. But they did want his athanor and augmentation on it. I also want to include the laurel wreath.
For the sides, I had a lot of area to cover. Given his attachment to equestrian I wanted jousters. But I needed something else to take up space. So, I added laurel wreaths. So, around the circumference are two sets of jousting knights broken up by two laurel wreaths.
So, now is when I hit the unexpected. One of the most important skills of a wood worker is to read grain. It’s doubly so for the wood carver. It turns out that carving a round surface is hard. Even worse, turning a round surface when the grain changes direction every 1.7 inches. It was not the easiest time.
That being said, the carving was done by my normal method. I would use an appropriate shaped gouge to outline the shape. I would then ground the surrounding. The final step was adding detail to the figures.
Now, diapering is important on a project like this. It hides the unevenness of the background. It adds interest. But most importantly, it makes the designs pop out of the wood. I went with a simple cross hatch on a 45 degree angle for this project.
Initially I didn’t intend to do diapering on the top, but I decided it needed it as well once I got done with the elements.
I finished the box with a couple of coats of linseed oil.